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Logo of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921.

Eugenics is the use of sterilization or abortion as a means of artificial selection to alter the characteristics of a species. The terms usually refers to the selective breeding of humans. It is a social philosophy which advocates the manipulation of human reproduction for the purposes of attempting to improve the human species over generations. The word Eugenics comes from the Greek for "well born".


Eugenicists, believe disabled people and other socially undesirable groups, such as vagrants and 'moral defectives', would weaken the gene pool of the nation and reduce competitiveness. At the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th, disabled people were shut away in single sex institutions for life or sterilized. The policy was derived from Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, which aimed to improve the quality of the population by preventing "unfit" people from reproducing and encouraging "fit" people to reproduce.

Such ideas were popular in many countries, and were widely implemented in United States, the Nordic countries, and Germany. The Nazis used false scientific arguments to discourage procreation by members who they considered were 'unfit' to live in society, either physically, mentally or socially. In the famous case of Buck v. Bell in 1924, the US Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law permitting the state to sterilize mentally retarded people without their consent. The Court reasoned:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

Holmes concluded his argument with the infamous phrase: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Similar arguments were made in Civic Biology, the evolutionary text behind the Scopes trial.


A number of ancient pagan cultures practiced eugenics, notably the Spartans. Plutarch wrote of the Spartans:

If after examination the baby proved well-built and sturdy they instructed the father to bring it up, and assigned it one of the 9,000 lots of land. But if it was puny and deformed, they dispatched it to what was called 'the place of rejection', a precipitous spot by Mount Taygetus, considering it better both for itself and the state that the child should die if right from its birth it was poorly endowed for health or strength.[1]

The reason for this practice was an emphasis on the maintenance of "good stock," which led the Spartans to the following customs:

If an older man with a young wife should take a liking to one of the well-bred young men and approve of him, he might well introduce him to her so as to fill her with noble sperm and then adopt the child as his own. conversely a respectable man who admired someone else's wife noted for her lovely children and her good sense, might gain the husband's permission to sleep with her -- thereby planting in fruitful soil, so to speak, and producing fine children who would be linked to fine ancestors by blood and family.[1]

This is directly contrary to the teachings of Christ and the prophets, who taught that all should be treated justly, and not on the basis of strength or weakness. In opposition to the perverse human tendency to favor the strong over the weak, Jesus healed the sick and deformed, and warned the proud and powerful that they would be made low.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Plutarch on Sparta, London: Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 26-27.

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